Mindset is important because mindset lets us be ok with doing things.
Here’s what I mean: how many times have you known exactly what you should be doing… but instead you just hold back? Or find excuses? Or pretend it’s not important?
Without the right mindset, you’ll know what to do… but you won’t do it. Not properly. Not fully. That’s one definition of pain.
That’s why I want to talk about the biggest mindset changes I’ve experienced, and how I came to experience them.
Because you won’t change your mind if you don’t have a reason.
1) “I want to be happy.”
I was always living by the expectations of others and I wanted to stop. I didn’t even know I was doing it, and I didn’t know I wanted to stop, until I was talking to a mentor of mine.
I knew I wanted to stop because of how it felt. It felt wrong. If felt… not right. I had no idea what I wanted to do instead… but I’d finally got to the point where I couldn’t keep doing what I was doing. That’s usually what has to happen before someone changes.
My mentor asked me a strange question:
“What’s the benefit of always living by the expectations of others?”
The benefit? Of doing this thing I wanted to stop doing? What was he talking about?
“Erm… I don’t know. There isn’t one,” I said.
He looked at me and smiled.
“Are you listening to yourself?”
I had to laugh. Was I listening to myself? No. Of course I wasn’t. I guess it was obvious.
He told me that he was going to ask me what the benefit was again and that he wanted me to listen to myself.
I told him I was ready. Because I felt ready.
“What’s the benefit of always living by the expectations of others?”
“… because then they’ll like me.”
I know. It’s obvious. It’s embarrassingly obvious. But back then it wasn’t obvious. Back then it was a relief. Because there actually was a reason why I was doing what I was doing.
And then he did something else I didn’t expect. He kept asking me.
What’s the benefit of being liked? Well, then I’d feel good.
What’s the benefit of feeling good? Well, then I wouldn’t feel like sh*t.
What’s the benefit of not feeling like sh*t? Well, then I wouldn’t be unhappy.
What’s the benefit of not being unhappy?
And this is where I got stuck.
I didn’t get it. Why was he asking me about the benefit of not being unhappy? Well I obviously wouldn’t be unhappy, would I? That was the benefit! There was no more!
But, again, I wasn’t listening to myself. I was getting in my own way. And that’s exactly what he told me.
I took a deep breath. And he asked me again.
“What’s the benefit of not being unhappy?”
“… I’ll be happy.”
I dropped my head because I felt my eyes stinging.
“I’ll be happy.” When was the last time I’d thought about those words? When was the last time I’d even thought about my own happiness?
And then I realised something.
I’d never truly wanted to live by the expectations of others.
What I’d truly wanted was to be happy. And I thought living by the expectations of others would lead to that. But – if you’ve been paying attention – that’s exactly what was making me unhappy.
I knew what I had to do.
I knew how to be happy.
I had to start living by the one person’s expectations I’d never even considered living by.
2) “I can do what I want to do.”
I wanted to know the answer to the question “who am I?”
It was such a big question. I’d get emotional just thinking about it.
Who was I?
With the help of a mentor, I was about to find out.
He said that the first step was to write down everything that was important to me. My beliefs. My values. I wasn’t sure how this would help, but I trusted him.
I wrote down everything I could think of. Anything that popped into my mind, I wrote it, and I wrote down anything that popped into my mind because I wanted to show myself that I trusted myself.
I wrote and wrote and wrote until I couldn’t. Until all my thoughts were on the paper. Until I was bored of thinking.
And then he told me to keep writing.
More came out. I wouldn’t have thought that was possible… but it happened. Who knew there was knowledge beyond boredom?
Once everything was written down, it was time to put it in order. From what was most important to me to what wasn’t so important to me.
Again, I trusted myself. I did my best not to judge myself. I did my best to think not of where things should be, but to think of where they actually were.
After this, he asked me to circle my top three values. The most important things to me. In the world. In my life. And he asked me to write down why they were so important to me.
Then we were done. And he held my list up in front of me and asked me to look at it.
I smiled. I laughed. I leaned back in my chair and put my hands behind my hand.
There was only one thing to say.
It just was. It was me. That was who I was, right there on the paper.
And then I thought something else:
“Man… I can do all of the things I want to do.”
As soon as I knew what was important to me, and as soon as I knew who I was… everything I was holding back from seemed possible.
It seemed silly that I’d even been holding back at all.
3) “My opinion of me matters to me more than anybody else’s opinion of me.”
This was the other realisation I had when I wrote down everything that was important to me.
I had such a strong sense of who I was. Of “me”. I knew what I wanted to do, and I knew what I had to do. And it suddenly didn’t seem to matter what other people thought of me.
If they didn’t like me… that was ok. I had no right to expect them to like me. I had my life to live, and they had their life to live. What did it matter if they liked me or not?
Realising this helped me to feel free. For so, so, so long I’d thought it was my “job” to make other people happy. I thought other people had to like me for me to feel good.
That’s not to say it doesn’t feel good when people like you. Of course it does.
And it’s not to say that other people’s opinions don’t matter at all. Of course they do.
But I don’t need people to like me to feel good.
And even if other people’s opinions matter to me… mine matters more.
And that means that I won’t let other people stop me from doing what I want to do, or from being who I want to be.
I’m thinking you wouldn’t have a problem with other people knowing that their opinion of themselves was more important than your opinion of them.
So… what’s stopping you from living that way?
How can it be good enough for others, but not for you?
4) “I have to live by what’s important to me.”
Once I knew what was important to me, I knew my life would never be the same again.
And I was right. But not in the way I thought I’d be.
I thought that knowing what was important to me would solve everything.
I thought I’d be happy, and I thought I’d stop holding back, and I thought I’d start being successful.
I was wrong.
Because knowing isn’t enough.
It reminds me of that quote from Morpheus:
“There’s a difference between knowing the path… and walking the path.”
Knowing what’s important to you, but not living by it… that’s painful. @Matt_Hearnden (Click to Tweet!)
Because you know. You know what you should be doing, you know what you could be doing, and you know who you could be being… but you stop yourself. And now, you can’t blame it on ignorance. You can only blame yourself.
I didn’t start actually living by what was important to me until I fell asleep at the wheel of my car and almost killed myself. I opened my eyes just in time to see that I was about to smash into an oncoming vehicle, and I yanked the steering wheel as hard as I could in the other direction, spinning the car all the way around, and eventually coming to a stop next to some trees. I wasn’t hurt, but I was shaken. And I was… awake.
That evening, I had a couple of thoughts that stood out.
One was this:
“I can’t keep doing this.” “This” meaning not living by what was important to me.
And then I had a better one
“I won’t keep doing this.”
Won’t is better than can’t because “can’t” is powerless and “won’t” is choice.
I started being “me” more often. I started looking for little opportunities where I could listen to myself, where I could say “no” to other people, where I could just let go of expectations and just exist and see how comfortable that felt.
It was one of the best feelings ever. Being “me”.
Why had I waited so long?
5) “Some people won’t like who I pretend to be.”
The more I started being me, the more I started attracting people who were like me, and the more I started repelling people who weren’t like me.
I was pleased about that. I only wanted to be around people who were like me, and I had no time to spend time with people who weren’t like me.
I fell out of touch with a lot of people I thought I was friends with. Because I’d become different. Because I’d stopped pretending to be something I wasn’t.
It was when I realised this that I understood something so simple that I wondered how it had taken me so long.
If some people would never like the real me, then some people never liked who I pretended to be.
How had I never thought of that?
All the time I spent trying to get people to like me… and I never even considered that my chances of being liked were just as good whether I pretended to be someone I wasn’t or whether I was being the real me.
Some people will never like who you pretend to be.
What a perfect excuse to be who you really are.
6) “I’m not my thoughts.”
“I just woke up one day and realised that I wasn’t the voice in my head.”
My brow genuinely furrowed.
“He’s right”, I thought, somewhat ironically.
Of course he was right. He had to be right. I was the one who heard my thoughts, and experienced my thoughts, and could control my thoughts. So I must’ve been separate.
Here’s a story about this:
I was walking back from a nightclub with my friends, and some girls, and I saw a drunk guy at the end of the road. Well, I heard him first. He was hollering all kinds of things, barely any of which were intelligible. He was stumbling everywhere, and his friends didn’t seem to give a shit.
“We should just stop here for a while”, I thought.
But I said nothing. Because I convinced myself I was being silly. And we were with girls! I couldn’t say that in front of them! What if they thought I was scared?
We kept walking and then the drunk guy turned around and looked directly at me and said “I want the big one!”
I was easily the tallest there. I knew he was talking about me.
He ran over to me and started to shout in my face. I ignored him and kept walking. His friends did nothing.
Then he spat onto my cheek. I looked him in the eye, while he was shouting at me, and wiped it off with my hand and onto a wall.
I’ve never wanted to make someone bleed as much as I did then. I felt my right fist clenching, and I thought “I’m going to f*cking punch him as hard as I can.”
But I didn’t. I stopped myself. As much as I thought I wanted to hit him, to cause him pain… something in me told me it wasn’t the right thing to do.
When I thought to myself that we should stop walking so we could avoid this drunk idiot, I didn’t listen. And it was wrong of me to not listen.
When I thought to myself that I wanted to punch this drunk idiot, I didn’t listen. And that was the right thing to do.
Here’s the point: my thoughts don’t have to run my life. I’m not required to obey them. I don’t have to submit to whatever they want me to do.
I can be aware of them, and acknowledge them… but then it’s up to me to make a decision.
It’s up to me to decide what’s right and what’s wrong.
It’s up to me to choose.
It’s up to me to stop blaming my thoughts for my mistakes and to start taking responsibility for my decisions.
7) “It’s not wrong to feel bad.”
Louis CK helped me to realise this.
This is a quote from him:
“You need to build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something. That’s what the phones are taking away, is the ability to just sit there. That’s being a person.”
How many times do you distract yourself from your own thoughts and your own feelings with your phone?
If you’re me then it’s often. Too often. Often enough that it I’m writing about it right now.
Something like this was happening to me the other day. I was listening to some emotional music while I was writing, and I was feeling emotional, but then I felt an impulse to stop. To block it. To distract myself somehow.
But… why block it out? Why stop it? Why hold back?
Was I that scared of how I’d feel if I let myself really feel?
So I just… didn’t block it out. I let it happen. I got out of my own way.
It built until my eyes stung. And then until tears ran down my cheeks.
And then until I was crying.
I stopped writing and just cried.
It didn’t last long. Fifteen seconds maybe. And then I was done.
The sadness started to leave.
I felt better.
I felt even better.
I felt… relief.
I took a breath. A big one. I took a few.
And then I felt happy.
And then I smiled.
And then I chuckled to myself.
And then I finished what I was writing.
That’s what’s on the other side of really letting yourself feel your feelings: more feelings.
But feelings of relief, and of happiness, and of joy.
Real joy. Full joy. Joy and nothing else.
It’s like Brené Brown says: we can’t selectively numb emotions.
If we numb sadness, we numb joy.
What kind of a life is that?
We should be grateful that we’re able to feel deep sadness because it helps us to feel deep joy.
This is what I’m saying: the only reason we don’t want to feel bad is because we don’t like feeling bad.
Because it’s our preference to not feel bad.
It’s not “wrong” to feel bad. We’ve just decided that it is.
But deciding it’s wrong to feel bad means deciding it’s wrong to feel good.
Because if we won’t give ourselves the chance to feel truly bad, we don’t give ourselves the chance to feel truly good.
8) “Every f*cking day.”
I first started writing because I was reading article online – articles about being an entrepreneur, about life lessons, about productivity – and I thought to myself “these aren’t even that good. I think I could do better.”
I suppose I owe an awkward thank you to those writers because, rightly or wrongly, I’ve been trying ever since.
At first I wrote one article a week. I’d write it all in about 30 minutes – at the most – and then I’d post it to my Facebook page… without editing.
I know. I don’t ever want to read them.
But I found myself enjoying writing more and more and more. I started to look forward to writing. I found myself loving being sucked into the moment, and finally saying all the things I apparently wished I’d been able to say before, and the thrill of creating something right then and there.
I started writing more. Maybe two articles a week.
But then that wasn’t enough.
I wanted my writing to be read by more people. So I pitched my work to a couple of publications. They accepted. My audience expanded. That was exhilarating.
***** A quick note – true story: one of the publications asked me what qualifications I had. I don’t have any writing qualifications whatsoever, so this is what I said:
“Well, I don’t have any qualifications, but I did win a creative writing award when I was 11. So who needs qualifications?”
They accepted me. *****
It came to the point where I was thinking about writing every day – what I could write about, how I could get better, how I could get more eyeballs on my words.
And then I had a thought that took me to the next level:
“Do I want to commit to writing?”
It scared me. It gave me that feeling in my stomach. One I can feel again now.
Committing to writing, to me, meant writing every day.
Not every other day. Not every weekday. Not every day I felt like it.
And that’s what scared me.
What if I couldn’t do it? What if I didn’t really, truly want to do it? What if I did it for a year and then gave up? What if it wasn’t worth it? What if what if what if?
I was thinking too much. I stopped myself. And I asked myself a question:
“What do I really want to do?”
The answer was there:
“Commit to writing.”
So I did. I was scared, and still unsure, and worried I wouldn’t be able to keep going… but I knew it was the right thing to do.
After just a few days of doing it I knew I’d done the right thing. It felt like I’d been looking for something to commit to, to give myself to, to master.
Writing every day has changed me.
It’s changed me from someone who wondered whether or not he could commit to things to someone who knows he can.
It’s helped me to become patient. It’s helped me to become persistent. It’s helped me to realise that passion isn’t constant bliss – it’s far from it. Passion brings out every emotion in you – happiness, sadness, peace, frustration, exhilaration, boredom. And it’s helped me to realise that all these emotions are ok.
Writing every day has helped me to become who I knew I really was.
9) “I’m not entitled to success.”
When I first knew I wanted to work for myself I was selfish about it.
I wanted to work for myself because I wanted to live a certain kind of life, and because I wanted to be “me”, and because it was time for me to start prioritising my success.
Maybe that’s an ok place to start. Maybe the drive for success has to come from within. But here’s something I’ve learned: wanting success isn’t enough for getting success.
I know. How enlightening!
But how many times do you want something and do nothing about it? How many times do you think that you should get something just because you want it? How many times do you think that you should get something just because you believe you deserve it?
It was easier for me to believe I was entitled to success than to believe reality because believing I was entitled to success meant that it was guaranteed. I wanted to be successful so of course I would be! Eventually, I’d just be successful. Everything would work out and I’d end up with everything I’d ever wanted. Right?
Wrong. Very wrong.
I didn’t think I could handle believing in reality – the reality being that I’m not entitled to success – because that belief included the possibility of failure. The very real possibility of failure.
But… here’s the thing: believing I was entitled to success was only getting me failure. Because the entitlement meant that I wasn’t even trying.
Believing I wasn’t entitled to any kind of success whatsoever… that’s what let me start working harder, and start working more, and taking the kind of action I knew I had to take.
Pursing success became fun. Pursuing success became a challenge. Pursuing success became something I was creating, rather than something I was entitled to… and that was exciting.
Believing I was entitled to success only led to failure.
Believing I was never entitled to any kind of success has led to success.
10) “I’m successful now.”
In my 9-5 job I was doing something I liked, I had my own little team, I’d doubled my salary from when I first started at the company three years prior, and I had “Director” on my career discussion form.
I was happy.
Right? Wasn’t I? Yeah. I think so.
What is happiness, anyway?
So, seeing as I was clearly very happy, I was excited to go back to my secondary school and speak to some of the students.
All the teachers asked me about what I was doing, and I told them that I was enjoying my job, and that I’d just been promoted, and that things were going “really well”.
“Really well”. I kept saying that. It just kept… falling out.
My favourite teacher told me he was impressed with me. He said the students had really enjoyed talking to me. He told me he was proud of me.
“Thank you, Sir”, I said.
And then I got in my car and drove down the road and started to cry.
Because I finally realised, and finally admitted, that I wasn’t proud of myself.
Going back to the school, talking to the students… it made me think back to when I was their age. And the things I wanted to do when I was “older”. The daydreams I had.
And it made me think of what my twelve year old self would’ve said to me about my life:
“Why aren’t you doing what you love?”
And there would’ve been no good answer.
That’s why I was crying.
It hurt, at the time. It really hurt. The worst thing was that I had to go right back to work. Right back to pretending to be happy about being a person I wasn’t.
When I got home that evening, I didn’t know how I felt. I couldn’t seem to feel anything. There didn’t seem any point in crying – I’d already done that. I just sat there and thought. I just laid down on my bed and realised how disappointed I was with myself.
Maybe I had worked my way up the company. Maybe I finally had my own little team, something I’d wanted for years. Maybe I was earning double the amount of money I’d earned when I started.
But I didn’t feel successful. Not at all. Because this wasn’t my path.
This was a path that I’d blamed other people for pushing me into even though I’d really chosen it out of fear and not believing I was good enough to live the life I desperately wanted to live.
A life that was “me”.
It was time for me to stop taking steps on this wrong path. It was time for me to stop trying to convince myself that I should enjoy this path. It was time for me to stop blaming other people for my choices.
I’m grateful I realised that when I did.
I left that job, and that life. I moved back in with my parents. I sold my car. I’m not making as much money as I was. Yet.
I’m also happier than ever.
I get to work on my craft every day. I get to take one or two or three or more steps on the right path every day. I get to build something I actually want to build. I get to live the life I daydreamed about for years and years and years.
I’ve always wanted to be successful.
It’s taken me years to realise that success isn’t money or things or even accomplishments.
It’s moving forward. It’s moving forward on your path. It’s moving forward on your path every day.
I’m successful now.